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Reading 29: Take the Money and Run

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Anyone following these short and not so short bursts of writing will have by now realized that I am focusing most of my readings on the visual and performing arts, though right now my focus is a bit more on the visual arts, which I have less familiarity with. I read about exhibitions that I will not be able to see not just to torture myself, but because outside of going there or spending money I don’t have for show catalogues, it is as close as I can get to experiencing the art. Besides as a writer, I am fascinated by how art gets framed by text.

What follows is rough, there are some dropped words and the writing needs to be tightened, but I’m too damn tired right this minute to fix the errors I actually have caught (we won’t speak of the ones I miss even after reading a piece over and over and over again).

Take the Money and Run is a show in Amsterdam co-sponsored by de Appel, Witte de With and Christie’s (two art galleries and an auction house).

Some very big names in the art world have donated work to be auctioned off. The auction will benefit new projects and programs. This show’s work supposedly manages to reflect “within the context of the auction upon the relationship between the economic and the symbolic value of art.”

The three curators, members of de Appel’s staff, have invited the artists to make a new work on A4, in which the changed value system within the art world in these times of financial crisis, is being brought up for discussion. After being exhibited, the conceptual works, texts, drawings, promises, understatements, ideas, visions and performances will be part of the “Two in One” auction taking place at Christie’s on 20 May. The project is an empathetic critique from within, in which de Appel and the artists assume the simultaneous role of contemporary collaborator and critical inquirer.

Of course, I would have to see the work to be sure, but my bullshit meter is dinging. Does having a performance called “Strip the Auctioneer” the night of the auction by Christie’s really equal to a “critique from within?” Mind you, it sounds like a grand good time, but it could as easy be called a publicity/fundraising stunt if fraternity boys raising money for the hungry and homeless did basically the same thing, we wouldn’t call it art. (I know, I know, the frame is a key piece of what makes it art puzzle, but still it is important to remember the cleaver/joke/stunt is not unique to the art world and not necessarily any more thought provoking or worthy of critical comment than the fore imagined frat fundraiser).

It sounds more like what flaming lefties like to call co-optation. Basically, the idea is that capital is a wiley bugger and quick on its feet and takes what was a critique, what was a form of resistance, swallows it, digests it a bit and pukes it back up in a slightly shifted form that it then uses to sell records, gizmos and yes, even art.

Perhaps, my problem is with their use of the word “empathetic” before “critique from within.” I think that is what has my bullshit meter ringing like I’ve hit the jackpot. The sassy, working class Southerner in me translates “empathetic critique from within” as “we have to talk about the market and symbolic value of art, because that’s what all the smart shows do when looking at the issue of economics and how it relates to (runs) the art world, but because we really, really want Christie’s to help us raise some cold hard cash, we have declawed all the catty critiques (don’t want to mess up the guests’ nice clothes) so they can be friendly, fun, festive events like “strip the auctioneer.”

Of course, I’m pulling all of this out my ass based on a small scarp of curatorial writing, but unless “you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time” to get me over there to see the show we won’t know if I’ve I’m right on the money about Take the Money and Run.

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